This Is A Joel McHale Appreciation Post

‘Animal Control’ has made it necessary. We’re as shocked as you are
This Is A Joel McHale Appreciation Post

The truism that anyone in a city is never more than six feet from a rat has long since been debunked. What is true is that anyone in this country is never more than six minutes away from a Joel McHale performance. He’s hosting Crime Scene Kitchen. He’s guest-hosting I Can See Your Voice. He’s showing up in prestige dramedies like The Bear. He’s voicing characters in not-prestige video games like Fortnite. As much as he works — which seems to be constantly — he’s also making sure we all know which jobs he’s got lined up. He’s so ubiquitous that even when he books a sitcom featuring other stars you like, you might avoid it because you don’t think you can trust his taste. And maybe you can’t! But if Joel McHale fatigue kept you from sampling Animal Control, I am here as a reformed Joel McHale abstainer to tell you: Animal Control harnesses and deploys his charm like nothing I’ve seen him in before.

I wasn’t always so dubious about McHale’s career. Starting in the mid-aughts, when E! revamped and relaunched Talk Soup as The Soup, America got its first exposure to McHale (also a writer and producer) making snarky jokes about ridiculous TV clips. If you’ve never watched a whole episode of One Tree Hill but have seen a dog eat a donor heart while a shaggy-haired Paul Johansson looked on despondently, chances are Joel McHale exposed you to it on The Soup

The Soup franchise has been a surprisingly effective launching pad for its hosts, which have included Archer star Aisha Tyler and Oscar nominee Greg Kinnear. McHale came into the show as a steadily working actor who had not yet found his breakout role. That changed in 2009 when, a few years into The Soup, McHale made his debut as Jeff Winger in NBC’s Community. Viewers who knew McHale as a sarcastic, superior commentator on some of TV’s worst and weirdest moments didn’t have to make too many mental adjustments to get on board with McHale as a sarcastic, superior lawyer forced to attend community college to fill in educational gaps he’s been lying about. (Playing an FBI agent in Steven Soderbergh’s The Informant! the same year was a much less expected move for McHale, though one he pulled off — and in a cast that also included such comic legends as Andy Daly, Allan Havey, Scott Adsit, Patton Oswalt, Paul F. Tompkins, Toms Wilson and Papa, and both Smothers brothers, all playing straight.)

NBC in the late aughts wasn’t the comedy juggernaut it had been a generation earlier, but Community was still a network show, and in the waning days of the monoculture, it made McHale a mainstream star who could present at the Emmys or play a villain in Ted. As Community evolved into more of a niche hit — remember Yahoo! Screen? Of course you don’t, but that’s where new episodes of Community ended up after NBC canceled it — McHale became a beloved cult comedy star. Maybe he wasn’t on the level of a David Cross, for example, but Community’s underdog status created a halo that also bathed its stars in its glow. 

Yet, even as McHale’s stardom and credibility both rose, he kept the job that first put him on the map: McHale continued hosting The Soup the ENTIRE time Community was on. McHale didn’t exactly come to show business from a disadvantaged background — his father was the dean of students for Loyola University — but he doesn’t seem to have come to the industry with any connections; a guy who hangs on to his steady gig even if new opportunities seem more elevated is a guy who knows he probably shouldn’t count on his career to keep trending up indefinitely.

So does McHale pop up on TV as “himself,” maybe more than is advisable? Yes. In addition to his full-time duties on the aforementioned Crime Scene Kitchen and House of Villains, he’s guest-hosted Today’s fourth hour, The TalkWe Are Family and Live with Kelly And Mark; he’s guest-judged Is It Cake?Hot Wheels: Ultimate Challenge and Sparklers; and he’s been a contestant on The Great American Baking Show. That would be a lot for someone to do in a decade; McHale did all of those appearances in the past year. But life is uncertain, McHale has two kids and a wife to think about, and if The Soup is no longer available as a reliable backup for work that’s more creative, maybe he feels like he needs to take every job in the Soup-ian category before Glenn Howerton or Max Greenfield decide they want to get into the space — and maybe underbid him since, being a foot shorter than McHale is, they can get by on 80 percent of his quote.

Fortunately for us all, McHale made time in his extremely busy schedule for Animal Control. His character, Frank Shaw, started his career as a cop in Seattle, like his father Jimmy (John Procaccino) and, as we will learn in a few weeks, his older brother Patrick (Thomas Lennon). When he tried to address corruption on the force, Frank was the one who ended up getting fired for it, which led him to his new career running down the city’s most unruly ostriches, raccoons, peacocks and monkeys. Frank is, admittedly, distinctly Jeff Winger-esque: His appreciation for his new manager, Emily Price (Vella Lovell), is largely based on how easily he’s able to manipulate her — someone more seasoned than she might balk at his request for an espresso maker imported from Italy — and a review of surveillance footage from the department veterinarian’s office shows him sneaking in to curl 27-pound buckets rather than work out in the on-site gym. But while Frank is dismissive of most people he meets, the job’s requirement that he interact with animals permits the character to exhibit a disarming tenderness. A Season One arc revolving around tagged cougar C-38 gives depth to his character and creates intimacy with his colleague Victoria (Grace Palmer) who sure seems like she’s being set up as Frank’s eventual love interest.

Like Jeff, Frank thinks he knows better than everyone he knows; unlike Jeff, Frank is often right, and while seeing him use his former cop skills can be an unfortunate reminder that he ever thought that was an honorable occupation, using them in the service of helpless animals is unassailable. Frank’s misanthropy just means it’s easy for him to take all the affection he’s not directing toward people, and make it available to animals; nothing is easier to believe than a Joel McHale character allocating his emotional resources in this way.

Following a romantic setback in last week’s Season Two premiere, tonight’s episode finds Frank asking Victoria for help setting him up with a dating app bio. She overrules his refusal to bait eligible women with a photo of himself with a baby giraffe, and even if we don’t see it, we don’t need to: merely imagining this very tall, very fit man handling a juvenile ruminant is enough. We’ve known for 20 years that McHale is a feast for the eyes, but when I tell you he’s been married to his college sweetheart for almost 28 years, he just got a little more attractive, right? 

If McHale wants to guest-judge 30 more reality competitions this year to give the beautiful, accomplished, age-appropriate mother of his children everything she wants, I support him. And maybe I get him now: Crime Scene Kitchen is for her. Animal Control is for me. 


Scroll down for the next article
Forgot Password?